If we meet the world with an open mind, receptive to what we encounter, the world will give us ample food for creative thought. Here are four situations I experienced recently. Each one of them got me thinking about broader meanings.
The tourist: While out running late one sunny Saturday afternoon, I encountered a foreign tourist on a pedestrian bridge. He was carrying a travel guide and a big map of Bangkok, looking confused and lost. He asked me, "Excuse me, can you tell me what this road is?" I said, "That's the Expressway, and down there is Wireless Road." The tourist still looked confused, so I said, "Let me help you. Where do you want to go?"
He looked at me and, seemingly surprised at himself, answered, "I don't know." "Well," I said, "then it doesn't matter where you go. Every direction will lead you to your destination." I left him behind and continued running, wondering how many people and businesses simply go, without knowing where they want to wind up.
Where are you, and your business, headed? Why do you want to go that way and not another? How will you know once you've arrived? What intermediate stops do you have to make along the way? And how can you get there as fast as possible _ or in the most enjoyable way?
Life isn't fair: Over coffee one day, a colleague told me about a software company he'd worked with. "We had a better product, but our competitor ultimately beat us and took the market," he said.
I asked, "Why was that? Did they have more funding, better marketing, or what?" He said, "No, we had pretty deep pockets. But they were better connected and telling lies, and the market believed them."
When I commented on the unfairness of this, he said, "Well, life isn't fair," and added, "If we'd got our story out before the rumours started, we might have had a chance."
The next day, I watched a football match on TV where the vastly better team lost in a penalty-kick shoot-out. I remembered my co-worker's words: "Life isn't fair." Whether in sport or in business, it never has been and never will be. So when you have the chance to act, take it, before luck can turn against you.
What opportunities do you need to act upon quickly and decisively to increase your odds of getting a fair chance? What things are not fair but must be accepted, so you can focus on those things you can do to improve your odds of success?
Late for class: "Why are you late?" I asked one of my graduate students when he entered the classroom nearly one hour after the start of class on a sunny, traffic-free Sunday morning. "Sorry, Ajarn," was the non-answer I got, so I asked, "This education costs a lot of money. Why are you willing to throw away a third of what you paid for?"
I told the student getting a master's degree meant adopting the mindset of a master and leaving that of a novice or apprentice behind. "You have two choices: either opt in and do what it takes to master this field, which means engaging fully with the subject and the people involved; or opt out and use your time and money for something else." He promised to be on time in the future.
Thinking about this later, I wondered at the number of people who aspire to higher things but fail to adopt the necessary mindset to achieve them. And I wondered how many people pay for goods or services that they don't really use or need.
What do you pay for in your business and your private life that you don't use as fully as you can or need to? In what parts of your life or your business do you need to decide if you're in or out? In what ways do you want to be a master but continue to operate and behave like a novice or apprentice?
Creativity and discipline: I had a difficult conversation with a team member at my company, who was taking weeks to finish the last bits of work in a major years-long project. I asked, "You agreed to finish this by the end of the year, so why are you so late?"
He said, "I guess I was busy with other things that I gave priority to. And to be honest, I'm really exhausted from this project that has dragged on for so long, and I'm having problems motivating myself to finish it."
I nodded in understanding and said, "I'm tired of it too. But we need to finish it, and we rely on your work. So just do it or let us know if we need to find someone else to finish it."
One of the five core values of my innovation company is action (the others are value creation, creativity, energy and wow). And one way to embody action is through discipline. We define discipline as "doing what you have to do even when you don't want to, out of respect for yourself, your co-workers, clients and other stakeholders".
Many people are surprised we emphasise discipline, given that we preach the importance of creativity, which is more typically associated with spontaneity, chaos, freedom and fun. But creativity often thrives within constraints and difficulty, as the music of Bach and the paintings of Mondrian demonstrate.
Also, we are an innovation company, not just a creativity company. Innovation is the combination of creativity with action. If you don't take action on your ideas, you may be creative, but you're not an innovator. One of the fundamental criteria of excellence that Jim Collins identified in his book Good to Great was that those companies that significantly outperformed their peers over a 15-year period were built on a culture of discipline.
How disciplined are you? How much emphasis does your organisation place on discipline? How do you define discipline? And how can you become more innovative and successful by becoming more disciplined?
Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (www.thinkergy.com), the innovation company in Asia. He also lectures in business creativity and innovation leadership at Mahidol University's College of Management (www.cmmu.mahidol.ac.th). He can be reached at email@example.com
About the author
- Writer: Detlef Reis
Position: founding director of Thinkergy Limited